CFSP, CPCC, CSDP, EDA, PESCO, PSC, CIVCOM, EUMC and EUMS – the European Union’s actions in the area of foreign and security policy are rich in acronyms and often complex. However, one element is very tangible: our military and civilian operations on the ground. Women and men from all EU member states serve under the EU flag in peace-keeping, crisis management and conflict prevention operations.
At the 20th anniversary of the EU Military Staff (EUMS), we celebrated the efforts of the women and men who have served and continue serving in the EU’s missions and operations. Above all, we honoured and remembered those who made the ultimate and selfless sacrifice for a more secure and better world.
The ceremony was attended by the Chairman of the European Union Military Committee (EUMC), General Graziano, the Director General of the EUMS, Vice Admiral Bléjean, as well as by former Directors General of the EUMS, Political and Security Committee (PSC) Ambassadors and military representatives of EU member states.
It was very moving to see all these soldiers with their flags gathered in the courtyard of the European External Action Service. Gathered around the stele, which pays tribute to those who have fallen in the service of the European Union. With the EU anthem being played by the Royal Band of the Belgian Airforce, a minute of silence punctuated by a drum beat and followed by a piper’s lament, with wreaths being laid under the EU Flag at half-mast and the EUMS Director General and the EUMC Chairman saluting on behalf of all military guests. While today we are used to having military structures under the EU roof, I remember well that just 20 years ago many had to get used at first to see military uniforms in EU buildings.
Since the establishment of the EUMS 20 years ago, over 30 EU civilian and military missions and operations have been conducted up to now. Militaries from our Member States have been active from the Balkans to Central Africa, from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel and from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. At present, the EU deploys seven military missions and operations: four EU Training Missions (EUTMs) in Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and in Mozambique; two naval operations in the Mediterranean (Operation Irini) and in the Indian Ocean (Operation Atalanta) and the oldest of our military operations – Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Their work has been and continues to be crucial to stabilise crisis zones, manage conflicts and secure free and open sea-lanes, to contribute to international security and protect European citizens and their interests.
The EU Military Staff was established in 2001. Currently, it consists of more than 200 permanent military and civilian personnel, located in our buildings. It is a unique source of military expertise within the European External Action Service (EEAS) and provides a wide range of activities: early warning, situation assessment, strategic planning, communications and information systems, concept development, training and education. It can be used across the full spectrum of our actions: support to humanitarian assistance, civil protection, security sector reform, stabilisation and evacuation of citizens, as well as peace-keeping and peace enforcement operations.
For decades, defence was not part of the European integration process. Only in the 1990s, following the end of the Cold War and the conflicts in the Balkans, military issues came onto the agenda. The 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam affirmed the Union’s willingness to develop capabilities for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces. The Treaty defined the range of military tasks that the EU could undertake. Subsequently, the 1999 European Council in Cologne agreed on institutional arrangements for the analysis, planning and conduct of military operations, including the EU Military Committee und EU Military Staff. Subsequently, the European Defence Agency (EDA) was created in 2004.
The Lisbon Treaty in 2009 launched the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and since then, its structures have developed further (see here for an overview). The EU Global Strategy of 2016 opened the way to new defence initiatives, such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation or the European Defence Fund. In 2017 was created, within the EUMS, the so-called Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC). For the first time the EU was equipping itself with a permanent military command and control structure in Brussels.
Much has been achieved in the last 20 years but more still has to been done. To honour our fallen colleagues, it is our duty to keep up their work and make the EU a credible international security provider. The landscape around us is deteriorating quickly. We are witnessing growing strategic competition and the return of power politics. In this more hostile environment, we need to defend more actively our interests, and protect better our citizens. Above all, we need to increase our capacity and willingness to act. That is precisely the goal of the Strategic Compass, which member states began to discuss last week.
With the Compass, I put forward a number of concrete proposals to make our military engagement more effective, to build a Rapid Deployment Capacity and to provide our missions and operations with more robust and flexible mandates. I also propose to reinforce our military presence at sea and in maritime areas of interest, such as the Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, the Compass strives to boost our intelligence capacities and step up our capacities to address hybrid threats, including foreign information manipulation and cyber-attacks.
The EU Military Staff - together with the EU Military Representatives of our member states – will play a key role to move this forward and to give a common EU answer in this more challenging world to European interests and values.